As most of you know, USCIS Public Charge Rule was effective from Feb 24, 2020. The public charge rule impacts H1B, H4, L1 Visas and many more visas, including F1 Visa Students, OPT, STEM OPT holders. With the recent Coronavirus Outbreak globally, testing and treatment is critical for everyone. Many of the internationals living in US on a visa or planning to apply for their Green Card are worried, if they take COVID-19 tests or treatment from US Govt. it may constitute as public charge. USCIS put up a big alert on their website clarifying the same. We will look all the specifics of the COVID-19 and Public Charge guidance given by USCIS in this article.
Background : Declaration of Public Benefits with USCIS Applications
With public charge rule in effect, when someone files for an Adjustment of status using Form I-485 ( for green card ) with USCIS, they need to fill in form I-944 Declaration of Self Sufficiency. In that form I-944, you need to list out all the public benefits used. The form has a bunch of questions and options outlining the public benefits and users need to fill those details out. USCIS will use the details submitted in that form I-944 to determine if the individual could become a public charge or not. Also, other applications such as H1B Holders, H4 Visa holders, F1 visa holders, L1 Visa holder, etc. applying for new application, or Extensions, including Change of Status, need to fill out details related to Public Charge in form like I-539 and other related forms like I-129 tied to the visa type. Overall, as this is really new rule, many are still not sure, what counts as public benefit and what does not count as public benefit as some are really grey areas and no one knows how USCIS may treat some of these benefits.
As many internationals are worried with Coronavirus pandemic, USCIS has given the below guidance on public charge related to COVID-19 tests and treatment to ensure public safety.
USCIS COVID-19 Guidance for Public Charge Determination for Non-immigrants
USCIS posted a big alert on their public charge webpage, clarifying the public charge applicability for COVID-19 related benefits. Below are the various key aspects that were clarified by USCIS in that alert.
COVID-19 Tests, Treatment or Preventive care not counted for Public Charge Determination
Below exact text is taken from the USCIS alert. Read it carefully, this is the most important text for Public charge determination.
“To address the possibility that some aliens impacted by COVID-19 may be hesitant to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services, USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination, nor as related to the public benefit condition applicable to certain nonimmigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).”
It is very clear from above sentences that USCIS will not consider testing, treatment or vaccines, etc. related to the Coronavirus situation as public benefit for determination of Public Charge for a non-immigrant individual. This applies to everyone filing for adjustment of status, including anyone applying for extensions or change of status applications.
USCIS Encourages to get COVID-19, if any symptoms. No restrictions for anyone
USCIS clarified that the Public Charge Rule does not restrict the access of resources for testing, screening or treatment of communicable diseases such as COVID-19 for anyone. They encourage everyone, including non-immigrants/aliens with symptoms that resemble COVID-19, such as cold, severe headaches, cough, fever, shortness of breath, etc. to get tested and it will not have any impact on their pubic charge determination.
Social Distancing or Quarantine rules in place – Offices, Universities shutdown to stop spread of COVID-19
USCIS says that if someone is in an area, where there are certain rules in place for social distancing or quarantine, and offices, schools, universities are shutdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 disease. Such individuals may not be able to work and get paid. They many need to rely on the public benefits during the situation and recovery phase. All such individuals can write up an explanation and provide documentation for the same with the application. USCIS will consider all of such documentation to make the public charge determination and look at the application in totality of circumstances.
Receipt of Public Benefits – Only one of the many factors used for Public Charge Determination
They also say that Receipt of Public benefits is one of the many factors they use to determine, if someone would become a public charge and it is not everything. Also, they say that benefits of COVID-19 would not play any part in that either positively or negatively. They will look at the entire application in totality of circumstances for public charge determination, rather than just benefits.
Below is the screenshot of the full alert that was posted by USCIS clarifying the public charge.
What should you do when you seek any benefits related to COVID-19 ?
First and foremost, you should save all receipts, letters, emails or any documentation related to benefits that are used by you related to COVID-19. It could be for testing, treatment or any cash benefits that you got related to COVID-19. As per USCIS public charge rule, you would need to mention all these public benefits that you got for COVID-19, when you fill out any application with USICS that requires declaration of the same. The key part is that, you need to clearly write up an explanation and attach supporting documentation related to the COVID-19. In this way, you would not be impacted.
You may also read USCIS Operations Impact with National Emergency for COVID-19
Have you taken COVID-19 Test ? What was your experience? Share your thoughts in comments.
Reference : USCIS Public Charge Web page